It takes a lot to win a single championship in the NBA, let alone three in a row. There’s a reason that only three franchises, the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls, and the Lakers (both LA and Minneapolis) have ever pulled off the illustrious three-peat over the last seven-plus decades: it’s really, really difficult. A lot of teams have tried over the years, some coming very close, but it’s only happened a total of five times, assuming the ’60s Celtics only get counted once.
Magic Johnson’s Lakers never had a three-peat. Larry Bird’s Celtics never had a three-peat. LeBron James has never had a three-peat. Tim Duncan’s Spurs never got it done. The “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons couldn’t do it. Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets fell short. Steph Curry’s Warriors never made it. It’s just not something that happens very often, which is what makes these five incredible teams so special.
Minneapolis Lakers (1952-1954)
After failing in their first attempt at a three-peat in 1951 after winning the NBA title the previous two seasons, the Minneapolis Lakers took home the title from 1952-1954 to become the first franchise in the league to win three championships in a row. Led by Hall of Fame center George Mikan, the Lakers bested the New York Knicks in ’52 and ’53 and clinched the three-peat with a 4-3 NBA Finals win in 1954 over the Syracuse Nationals, who won the title the next season and later became the Philadelphia 76ers.
Boston Celtics (1959-1966)
As difficult as a three-peat is, imagine how difficult it is to win eight in a row. But that’s Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics did from 1959-1966. Yes, there weren’t nearly as many teams in the league back then but it’s certainly impressive nonetheless. The Celtics had won their first title in 1957, beating the St. Louis Hawks, but lost to them the following year. In 1959, Bill Russell & Co. began a championship streak that we’ll never see again by beating the Lakers, whom they would beat five times in the NBA Finals during their eight-year title run, starting one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Chicago Bulls (1991-1993)
Following the Celtics’ eight-peat, it took more than 25 years for the three-peat to be achieved again. One of the reasons that Michael Jordan even played the 1992-1993 season before he left for baseball was because he wanted to do something that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird hadn’t, win three NBA titles in a row. Obviously, that’s exactly what he did in 1993, besting former friend Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Chicago Bulls (1996-1998)
In his first full season back in Chicago following his first retirement, Michael Jordan helped the Bulls to a then-NBA record 72 wins and a fourth NBA title. Joined by Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and a great group of role players, Jordan then led the Bulls to consecutive NBA Finals victories over Karl Malone, John Stockton, and the Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998. Many think that Jordan’s Bulls could have matched the Celtics’ eight-peat had he not retired in 1993.
Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002)
Phil Jackson holds the distinction of being the only head coach in NBA history with three-peats with two different franchises. After a year away from the game following “The Last Dance” season with the Bulls, the Zen Master joined the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 1999-2000 season and promptly LA to their first title in a dozen years. Led on the court by arguably the most dynamic duo in history, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers went on to win in 2001 and 2002 as well, marking the last time the three-peat has been accomplished in the NBA.